Kemer, Turkey, last blog of 2009.

Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Mon 7 Dec 2009 14:39
Everyone tells me I'm lucky to be alive, or at least not rotting away in some Turkish hellhole prison waiting to be garrotted.  After spending a dispiriting month in Istanbul finishing the Byron book I posted a blog here with some gloomy reflections on modern Turkey: grumbling and mumbling about the military posturing,  glooming and dooming about the Islamic backsliding, moaning and groaning about the rampant machismo – in fact being an all-round Dismal Desmond about Turkey and all things Turkish.


Well, I must admit I never saw the kerfuffle coming – I would at least have waited until safely through the frontier before posting it if I had. First the blog was picked up and syndicated by the worldwide yachting press, then by the San Francisco daily Alta California, and before you could say ‘a box of Delight please, squire’ the piece was all over the media from the lurid (the UK Sun: Yotty’s smirks irks Turks. Fez-tering backlash shock!) to the learned (Harvard Review of Foreign Policy: Dissenting voice or dissident tendency? Yachtsman’s considerations on Turkey’s evolving Eurasian identity dilemma).
Well, I was wrong with a capital R. In some form of defence I could say that the Turks down here on the south coast are quasi-Greeks and not quasi-Mongols, that with some irony secularism in the southern provinces isn’t just a passing fad but a deeply held belief, that women can see where they are going and be seen to be going there, and that away from the pressures of the capital the Near Eastern virtues of courtesy and patience have room to remain. And one must say that the undeveloped beauty of the coast, protected from land grabbers by steadfast mountains and nurtured by lakes and rivers, adds dramatically to the all round splendour of being here - as do the man-made ruins and relics of civilisations long past. Sometimes one feels to be in a vast open-air Greco-Roman museum, replete with modern tales from the New Testament, ancient tales from the Old and with the Crusaders passing through what seems like the day before yesterday.


Within a radius of ten miles from here one can drift between three distinct civilisations and feel at home in any of them. A short bike ride or dinghy trip to the south west are the ethereal remains of Ancient Olympos. At the end of a deep shaded valley, built either side of a stream which flows directly into the Mediterranean, overgrown with wild fig and pine trees and covered in flowing oleander and grapevines, Olympos was the centre of the post-Greek, pre-Roman Lydian civilisation. In its heyday, from 300 to 100 BCE, it was famous for its temples to the fire god Vulcan, its shipbuilding, trading prowess and its riches; now its inaccessibility preserves its sanctity and imagination plays with its timelessness. The modern Lydians have endured the stupidity of  breaking up Ottoman Anatolia into Greek and Turkish entities, and ninety years later are forging their own identity - and theirs is the second civilisation nearby: if one had to describe today’s Lydian Turks promptly the word ‘civil’ would come to mind. The third civilisation is here in Kemer Marina, where a hundred yachts, having sailed here from any or all of the seven seas, and their crews repose during the long Mediterranean off-season.


The interesting point about this third civilisation is that it is entirely organic, that is to say that two or three hundred intelligent beings have used their discrimination to make a series of free-will choices whose only aim is to make life more pleasant for their own society and the society surrounding them. There are no top-down rules, just bottom-up common sense and courtesy. One opts in or opts out of any activity, conscious that this decision affects the whole.  Each day is a pleasant meander through life’s possibilities; Chronus – Old Father Time – lets his clock run slow and we don’t rush to correct him.


At 8.30 every morning there is a ‘radio net’ when everyone tunes in to channel 69 and hears about the next few days activities: tennis tournaments, keep fit, art group, line dancing, card schools, circular suppers, visiting quartets, film shows, yoga, sewing, local markets, taxi sharing, people coming and going, birthdays and anniversaries, DVD and book swaps, library sorting, visa runs, jumble sales, laundry shifts, Turkish conversation and every evening the big get-together for Happy Hour (actually two hours) in The Navigator, the marina bar/restaurant/library and general HQ. On every national holiday or saint’s day there’s a big bunfight there too; right now all hands are on deck preparing for American Thanksgiving tomorrow evening. All this is in the marina; outside there are weekly trips to a symphony or opera in Antalya every Friday, shopping expeditions to the malls, massive hikes, bike rides, picnic lunches in the hills and skiing trips to the resorts nearby in the spring. I tell you this place needs its own Time Out. Throw into this mix good company, newspapers several days old, the best climate in the Mediterranean, downhome Levantine cuisine and living costs half of northern Europe and one feels to be a citizen of a sort of fantasy paradise.


The majority of liveaboards here are American, and all are invariably the sort of quiet, well travelled, well educated American that aren’t always to hand. They all come with some serious sailing credibility having reached here across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and up the Red Sea. All are couples, mostly in that autumn season between earlyish retirement and latish decrepitude, and many have been sailing together for over ten years or more. Many have been around the world twice. Their yachts are serious ocean going homes, not necessarily large or expensive- far from it, but multilayered with the paraphernalia collected over many miles that makes liveaboard life safe and comfortable.


All aboard break up the year with at least one visit ‘home’ every year. Mid-July to mid-August is a popular time as the Med is too hot and crowded to be ideal; Christmas is popular too for obvious reasons. Our neighbours are flying home to Australia today, others leave for San Diego and Oslo next week. The further east one goes the harder – and more expensive – these excursions become as one leaves easyJet destinations behind. From the western and central Med owners and guests fly back and forth at the drop of a hat; here you have to consider the advantages of not being on the cheap flights routes, and rest and be thankful.


Of course all the liveaboards have proper yachts, and of course all are disparaging about the 'yupes' (Ubiquitous White Plastic Bathtubs), shorthand for any of the mass produced cheap-as-chips Bavarias and their ilk which by common consent clog up the anchorages in the charter season. These are all airily pooh-poohed as ‘marina boats’, but when one considers that even Mediterranean liveaboards only spend five months of the year at sea a ‘marina boat’ is basically what we all have anyway. One would not want to be in a yupe in a Golfe de Lyon mistral but the weather forecasting is so good now that if one just wants to skirt around the edges of the Med there’s a good chance you’ll never have to see that cheap hull flex or those cheap fittings shake themselves off.  One would still have the ‘which Bavaria is mine?’ problem rowing back of an evening – in fact in Corfu marina I saw a spaniel running up and down the pontoon trying to work out which yupe it called home.


Anyway, these are observations from a hill; my thousand words are up and gone. Today is sunny again – there hasn’t been a cloud for four November weeks, and it still actually hot between 1200 and 1500 but then dark by 1730. The shortest day is a two weeks away, when I’ll be in England having to deal with Planet Reality. My mental visa is stuck in the post. This is the last blog of 2009, but news and video refreshers continue Next stop Syria in the spring. Have an enjoyable winter, lots of love, Ian